The Crusty Poinsettias; The Crusted Over Soul

poinsettiaYearly, members of the church I serve order poinsettias to decorate the worship center during Advent and into Christmas. We purchase them through a local non-profit agency that helps the impoverished in the area as part of their yearly fund-raising efforts.

This year, I jokingly challenged the congregation to order lots of them to make sure that I got my December exercise, since this will be my last year to undertake the task of KEEPING ALL THOSE POINSETTIAS ALIVE UNTIL CHRISTMAS!

Yes, all caps on that one. Poinsettias are tropical plants, and grow in rainforest areas.  They want damp air and wet roots. Once they get too dry, it’s curtains for them. They are not particularly happy in dry areas and really do need attention to thrive this long inside the church building.

So, I’ve worked out a routine over the years. One a week, they get a thorough drenching in the kitchen sink. That means trekking each pot to the kitchen, soaking it, draining it, and trekking it back to its appointed spot. Midweek, they get a touch-up watering, where I pour 8 to 12 ounces of water into each pot, just enough to keep it happy until the next soaking.

Last Thursday, Dec. 5, a van-load of poinsettias were delivered. The congregation took me up on my challenge, so there were a bundle of them. They were delivered at precisely the same time a massive ice storm was blowing in from the north. Temperatures had taken a giant dive, ice was starting to coat everything, and we were frantically trying to get all the children from our daycare and as well as the staff home before the roads became impassible.

I started ripping into the wrappings around each pot, rapidly took them into the worship area, and set them on plates any place I could find. Most were well watered already, for which I was grateful. Some weren’t–there wasn’t that good hefty feel to the pot when I picked them up. No time for a deep watering, so just gave them each their 8-12 ounce drink and hoped for the best.

We shut the building down and I headed home, planning to return the next day to do a better watering.

That was Thursday last.  It is now the Wednesday past that. All schools in this area have been closed since Friday and still are closed. All church services in the area were cancelled on Sunday. Over four inches of solid ice covered everything. No one was going anywhere.

I know that people make fun of Texans because we can’t drive on snow. That’s fine, go ahead and laugh. This was/is ice. Very different situation. I did not get out of my house from last Thursday late afternoon until yesterday and had a nightmare drive to make an couple of absolutely necessary meetings about 50 miles away. When I left Krum yesterday, the church parking lot was still an untouched ice rink.

Today, after trying to get to yet another meeting in Dallas, I gave up as every major freeway going that way had accidents and traffic piled up for miles.  So I turned back, and slid into the church parking lot, planning to water the plants and deal with undone paperwork.

And so began the laborious task of watering. To my great relief, most of the plants still had decent moisture in them. But some, the ones that had been delivered too dry had developed hard, crusted soil coverings.

The ones with adequate moisture happily lapped up the warm water from the sink spray. I could almost see their roots soaking it up.

But water just sat on the top of the soil on the crusted-over ones. With each of these, I poked and prodded, grabbed pieces of the crusty soil and broke it up, poked deep holes into the root balls, hoped that it will work.  If not, they’ll be dead before Christmas.

Now, the parellels here with our own lives scream out–it is those who keep themselves well watered who are actually able to received the next watering. But those who dry out . . . well then when someone has to poke and prod and tear away the crusts to give life, they scream in protest (I’m guessing at least that the dry poinsettias are screaming!). That poking and prodding hurts and everything has to be re-arranged in order to have any hope at all.

And this is what scares me about so many.  Hard crusts are formed because of a refusal to engage in habits that keep our souls, our selves, our inner beings, pliable enough to offer real life. And then when someone (like a pastor) suggests that many of their problems may be because of the refusal to develop healthier spiritual lives, they walk off in a huff.

Last week, two or three hours before the storm hit, a woman walked in the church looking for money. I ask that all such people are directed to me, or turned away if I am not present. Since I was here, I invited her in to see what she needed. She proceded to pour out a long story of woe, of three babies born without marrying, and then wondering why their father was not interested in getting married. She spoke of trying to get on disability, of how much she disliked church people, of her anger toward her mother and her life and the system and how she just wanted Christmas presents for her children, including new clothing for all of them and could not understand why every church she called or visited turned her away.

I finally said, “Is all this anger working for you?”


“Look, all I want is new clothes for my children.”

Response: “Many of my church members clothe themselves and their families quite nicely from Goodwill.  Have you been there?”

She knew exactly where the Goodwill store is located (not far from her) but had never bothered to go in.

And then she went back to her litany of woe and anger and frustration at the system and how she slept all the time and daytime TV was just awful.

And I asked again, “Is this anger working for you?” And, “What are you doing with yourself during the day that might help to lift your mood?”

Of course, there was no answer. She just wanted money from me, and an excuse to hate church people should I refuse her offer.

“Would you consider joining us in worship and letting us be a part of your life, a safe place for your children to learn about God?”


I did refuse.

I ache for her. No question but that she has lived a hard, hard life. I know I was born with many advantages she has not experienced.

I know that. And I was still unwilling to put my own limited resources on that particular piece of crusted over soil. The church does not set aside money for this type of benevolence, but contributes to an agency that is able to deal more competently with these situations. Help in cases like this comes from my own pocket. I have given freely to many.

Here, I resisted. Not this time, not this one. But she still haunts my memories.

I need to go finish the poinsettias now.  The last couple I picked up were particuarly crusted over and they take multiple soakings before they can absorb adequate water. Most if not all the plants will still be alive at Christmas–just wish I had something that worked as well for people.

6 thoughts on “The Crusty Poinsettias; The Crusted Over Soul

  1. Biblical and strong metaphor (God’s Word like water for our souls)! I once heard a pastor say, “The only people who don’t feel hungry when they don’t have food are those who are extremely sick or dead.”

  2. Who knows? You may have planted a seed of new fruit within her with your line of challenging questions. You may be haunting her memory to the extent that something good will come out of that. Even if she carries on unchanged, your time engaging her with questions and an invitation to worship amounted to you showing as much or more care than handing her cash out of your own purse.

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